Farmers Have Feelings, Too: Why You Need Emotion in Agri-Marketing

By Alex Varricchio written about 2 weeks ago

I want to pitch an ag advertising concept to you. It’s totally new, never been done and will likely shock the ag industry. We want to sell your product to farmers using a print ad in a farm publication. The ad is going to feature…wait for it…a farmer standing proudly, smiling in a field. This male farmer, likely in his mid-forties, is probably handsome. He probably has a bit of scruff on his face and most likely looks like he would be a hockey coach, or the type of guy who would help you fix a flat tire. You're going to want to buy whatever product is emblazoned on his gently-used baseball cap. I mean, it's original. It's edgy, isn't it?

The short answer is: no, it's not.

We all joke about the "farmer in the field" ad, but we all seem to produce them. For some reason, we're afraid to do anything different. We’ve accepted bad marketing in agriculture. It’s time to put some emotion into ag, some spit on the ground, some soul into our advertising and stop treating farmers like they wouldn’t know good advertising if it hit 'em in the face.

So how do we do this?

1. Find bravery in other industries

What do cavemen, geckos and a fiery woman named Flo have to do with insurance? Not a lot, but they’ve sure helped differentiate Geico and Progressive Insurance.

There are plenty of traditional industries that have managed to get over the creative hump and come out of it all the better. Lots of marketers don't paint traditional organizations with a traditional marketing brush. If they can be bold, then so can agriculture. And what often helps push marketers out of their comfort zone is seeking out-of-the-box advertising that has already been done (and done well) in other industries.

You may not be able to justify your edgy campaign with something already done in the ag world, so instead, point to comparable industries that have found success in bold marketing.

There is a case for innovative marketing, and there are piles of case studies online that demonstrate real value in these efforts. Next time you embark on a creative campaign, make sure to first look outside of your industry, find real results and challenge your team to follow suit.

And once you can convince your team to take a risk, make sure you use your sales results as a benchmark to prove ROI. The only thing sweeter than telling naysayers "I told you so" is having the data on hand to back you up.

2. Find inspiration in the "why" not the "what"

Think of the last ad you remember. What was it about? What story was told in the ad? Chances are, the ad you remember didn't speak a lot to product benefits and lists of reasons why you should buy the product. It probably spoke to something greater - a more noble purpose that you found you could connect with. Or, maybe there was no noble purpose, but the ad was super funny.

In branding, we talk a lot about the "what" and the "why" of an organization: the "why" being the heart, and the "what" being what you do and what you sell. The more you can speak to the heart of your organization - the stuff that gets you to work each day - the more your marketing will connect with your customers.

Unfortunately, in ag, we're very comfortable talking about what we do, but not so comfortable talking about why we do what we do. Very often, ag campaigns feature literal explanations of product benefits and details on why a product is better than its competitors. However, to be impactful, a campaign should speak to the heart.

To do this, look to your brand and your brand promise. What do your products really give your customers? How do you want to make your customers' lives better? What do they want from you? Capture the spirit of your customer or your team, and your advertising will connect more effectively.

3. Give farmers more credit

I don't know what it is about marketers, but far too often, we treat farmers like they're dumb, or like they have no sense of humor. Maybe we're concerned that farmers won't take edgy brands seriously or that they simply want the facts.

The truth is (and it's pretty obvious), this isn't the case at all. When speaking with farmers, testing creative or messaging, we often find that the campaigns that resonate the most are the ones with some heart, some grit or humor. They aren't the robotic, whitewashed messages that we often put out.

So if farmers are comfortable going edgy...why aren't marketers? It's time to treat farmers differently. Talk to your customers, see what they want, see what they like and build your marketing around this. Besides, if we're going to occupy airspace, we might as well do our best to delight, shock or make people laugh.

4. Ask "Why Not?" a lot more

There is a ton of information out there about the power of our constraints in our own thinking. When we're brainstorming, we so often say, "we can't," or "they wouldn't go for it." It's not easy to get this thinking out of our minds. So instead, try conducting a couple of brainstorms where you ask, "why not?" When someone throws out a constraint, be intentional about asking the question. These simple words can trigger a mindset shift and get people to look at their own biases.

5. Pick a test campaign that isn't too high stakes

Making the switch from blending in to standing out can take some time, both mentally and internally (from an approval, culture and comfort perspective), so rather than jumping all-in right away (amazing if you can, don't get me wrong), try picking a test campaign. Pick something that is relatively isolated, perhaps a product push, to try out your new creative approach. Be sure to track results closely, as there's a good chance you'll see better pick-up than you would've in the past.

As a marketer, it can be scary stepping out and trying something risky. It can feel like it might threaten our own reputations, or worse, our jobs. But wouldn't the world be a better place if, instead, it was the unwillingness to take risks that threatened our reputations and jobs? Wouldn’t we be so much better if we held each other accountable to being bold in our marketing and pushing for results?

We accept creativity in other industries. In fact, we celebrate it. We marvel at how great it must be to work on consumer brands that “let us do creative work,” and we settle on the idea that ag will never be as creative as it could be. This is a mistake on all of our parts. As a whole, we need to continue to push for good work and challenge what’s been done before.

Farmers aren't different from the rest of us - it's time for ag marketers to change old habits and bridge that self-imposed gap. For more recommendations on effective ag advertising, check out our Webinar Replay on agriculture and digital marketing.